In an industry that has seen its share of intriguing shake-ups and merger drama over the last year, TV’s buzziest satire of the media landscape, “Succession” — HBO’s chronicling of the high-stakes saga of an American global-media family — won the prize for drama at the 74th Emmy Awards on Monday, beating out an eclectic mix of competitors that ranged from bloody worldwide sensation “Squid Game” and electrifying Gen-Z drama “Euphoria” to social media water cooler breakout “Yellowjackets” and recently concluded critical favorite “Better Call Saul.”
“Succession” headed into this year’s Emmys as the most-nominated show with 25 nods, including writing and directing. After sitting out last year’s ceremony because of pandemic delays, the third season of the HBO series, as widely predicted, wasted little time in reclaiming the drama throne from “The Crown.” (“Succession” won the same award for its second season in 2020.)
In accepting the drama award, creator Jesse Armstrong began by making a quip that “it was a big week for successions,” referencing King Charles III.
“Evidently a little bit more voting involved in our winning than Prince Charles,” Armstrong said, to which star Brian Cox, who plays surly patriarch Logan Roy in the drama, said: “Keep it royalist.”
“I’m not saying we’re more legitimate in our position than he is,” Armstrong continued. “We’ll leave that to other people. But we are incredibly grateful to have this. It’s a wonderful honor. This group is extraordinary. It’s a team effort.”
HBO stars and creators paved a path to the stage, winning 11 of the televised awards. Combined with the Creative Arts Emmys given out last week, HBO and HBO Max totaled 38 Emmys, topping the 26 pulled in this year by Netflix. HBO and Netflix have battled it out for top winner at the Emmys in recent years, with Netflix taking the top spot last year.
Broadcast live on NBC from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles — and streaming live for the first time on its sister platform Peacock — the largely in-person ceremony felt less restricted by its pandemic backdrop than the previous two years. Still, the reminder of its lingering presence came from Bill Hader, who was nominated for his titular role in HBO’s “Barry” and wore a mask for the duration of the ceremony.
“Ted Lasso,” the feel-good show on AppleTV+ about an overly optimistic American coach who helps a beleaguered British soccer team, continued its streak as an Emmy darling, winning for comedy series for the second consecutive year.
Jason Sudeikis, the former “Saturday Night Live” star who plays the show’s title character, won his second Emmy for best actor in a comedy, and his fellow cast member Brett Goldstein won in the supporting actor category.
‘Lotus’ on top
Meanwhile, “The White Lotus,” HBO’s six-episode series that wrestles with issues of wealth disparity, also fulfilled expectations as a big winner of the night. In addition to its win for limited series, the show’s stars Jennifer Coolidge and Murray Bartlett also won for their performances. And creator Mike White won for both directing and writing. It was the year’s most honored program with 10 wins between the televised ceremony and earlier Creative Arts ceremonies.
In his acceptance speech for writing, White pointed to his time competing on the the CBS reality series “Survivor” on the show’s 37th season in 2018.
“I was on ‘Survivor’ and the way to stay in the game is to lower your threat level. And, it’s like, now I feel like I’ve raised my threat level. I just want to stay in the game, awards are great. I love writing, I love doing what I do. Don’t come for me, don’t vote me off the island, please.”
But in a night that seemed largely predictable, there were still some surprises.
One of the most electrifying moments came when Sheryl Lee Ralph won for supporting actress in a comedy for her role as veteran kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard in ABC’s “Abbott Elementary.” It was her first ever nomination and win in her storied career — and she made history as the second Black winner in the history of the supporting actress in a comedy series category. (Jackée Harry became the first in 1987 for “227.”)
A visibly shocked Ralph took to the stage and stunned the room as she belted out lyrics from the Dianne Reeves song “Endangered Species”: “I am an endangered species / But I sing no victim’s song / I am a woman I am an artist / And I know where my voice belongs.”
“To anyone who has ever, ever had a dream and thought your dream wasn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t come true, I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like, this is what striving looks like. And don’t you ever, ever give up on you,” Ralph said as nominees like Natasha Rothwell and Hannah Waddingham rose from their seats.
But things turned awkward during another celebratory win for the sitcom, which received seven nominations this year. To present best writing in a comedy series, Will Arnett dragged a seemingly passed-out Kimmel across the stage, joking that the late night host had a few too many skinny margaritas after another Emmys loss. When Quinta Brunson, the show’s creator and star, was announced as the winner for the category, Kimmel kept the bit going. Brunson had to step over him to give her acceptance speech, which many social media users found to be disrespectful.
“I know Jimmy Kimmel and … I felt like the bit didn’t bother me that much,” Brunson told reporters backstage. “I don’t know what the internet thinks! Honestly, Jimmy gave me my first late night spot and was one of the first people to see ‘Abbott’ and he Instagram messaged me that he saw this comedy and thought it was one of the greatest comedies of all time. … In that moment, I was just really happy that it was Jimmy up there! … I’m gonna be on his show on Wednesday, so I might punch him in the face. I don’t know. We’ll see what happens.”
“Squid Game,” Netflix’s gruesome South Korean thriller that became an international hit, also picked up multiple awards. Actor Lee Jung-jae prevailed over “Succession’s” Jeremy Strong and Cox, “Better Call Saul’s” Bob Odenkirk, “Ozark’s” Jason Bateman and “Severance’s” Adam Scott in the lead actor in a drama category. The win makes him the first actor from a foreign-language show to take the prize.
Lee praised the show, which involves a deadly tournament of kids’ games for a cash prize, and its makers for making “a realistic problem we all face come to life so creatively on the screen.” Hwang Dong-hyuk took home the Emmy for drama directing for the series.
And the night’s only reality TV-related category (the other’s were handed out at the Creative Arts Emmys earlier this month) saw “RuPaul’s Drag Race’s” Emmy-winning streak get broken by “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls” in the competition program category. The Amazon Prime Video series followed a cast of female dancers who auditioned to work with the pop star.
“When I was a little girl, all I wanted to see was me in the media — someone fat like me, Black like me, beautiful like me,” Lizzo said while accepting the award.
Master of the ceremony
“Saturday Night Live” star Kenan Thompson hosted the night’s festivities and gave the ceremony some rhythm in its opening moments with a different kind of song-and-dance number. Donning a tuxedo and top hat, Thompson may not have sang, but he did shuffle alongside dozens of dancers in a sequence paying homage to some of TV’s most memorable theme music with a medley of club-ready remixes of the opening tunes from “Friends,” “Law & Order,” “The Brady Bunch” and “Game of Thrones.”
Thompson’s jokes were mostly free of controversy. There was an early reference to NBC’s newish platform Peacock, which served as the streaming home of the ceremony: “Now, if you’re over 50 years old, Peacock is NBC’s streaming service,” he said. “And if you’re under 20 years old, NBC is a network that used to show ‘The Office.’” He went on to quip about “Succession’s” lack of inclusive casting and Leonardo DiCaprio’s dating life.
Thompson briefly referenced the drama at this year’s Oscars with a shout out to Regina Hall, who co-hosted that ceremony and presented at the Emmys.
“I’m surprised she’s at another awards show. Girl, you brave — nice, all the way in the back, I love it,” he said.
Similar to last year, nominees were seated at tables, à la the Golden Globes, instead of the typical theater-style seating, making for some interesting seating arrangements — Issa Rae next to Billy Crudup, Cox next to Sudeikis.
It was hardly the downsized ceremony in size and scope of recent years, which had been impacted by the global pandemic and production delays spurred by it. After a decline last year in the number of shows submitted for key races, the total number of submissions was up this year across most categories.
Among the night’s other key winners, Michael Keaton and Amanda Seyfried took the limited series lead performance honors for their respective Hulu dramas “Dopesick” and “The Dropout.” “Hacks” star Jean Smart won her second consecutive comedy lead actress award and “Ozark” co-star Julia Garner won her third Emmy for the Netflix series, this time for the final season.
NBC made sure to get its use out of the promotional platform of the ceremony, with a bevy of network talent making appearances throughout the show, including “Law & Order’s” Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni, “La Brea’s” Natalie Zea, music superstar-turned-daytime host Kelly Clarkson. And “The White Lotus” star Jake Lacy introduced an extended trailer for his upcoming Peacock true crime thriller “A Friend of the Family.”
Times staff writers Stephen Battaglio and Ashley Lee contributed to this report.
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